Saturday, 15 October 2011

Made In Walthamstow

I've embarked on a new project.  I'm researching into the Philips vinyl record factory in Walthamstow.  I worked there in the late 1970's for a couple of years and for PolyGram for a few more years after that.  It was local to me and for the years from the 50s through to its demise in the 80s it was part of the community.  If things go to plan and i'm up to it i'll try to write something about it.  Meanwhile I've set up a website Made In in order to collect the information and share it with others who have an interest.  I've posted images of some of the products that would have been made there; posted a short history of the record business and The Factory's place in it.  We'll see how it goes but it's been fun and interesting so far.  Here's an extract from the home page...

Walthamstow, E17. On the edges of Greater London and Essex, bordered by the River Lea, Epping Forest and the North Circular Road. This is a North London suburb with a place in the History of Recorded Music.

If you are of a certain age and purchased vinyl records in the 50s through to the 80s by Dire Straits, The Who, Elton John, Blondie, Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Roxy Music, Dusty Springfield, 10cc, Genesis, The Jam, The Walker Brothers, The Stylistics; the soundtracks of Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Fame or the great MGM musicals to name but a few; on labels like Polydor, Philips, Mercury, RSO, Atlantic, Stax, Decca, London, Arista, Chrysalis, Charisma and Verve; it's likely that they were made at the Philips (later Phonodisc then PolyGram) factory on Walthamstow Avenue, not far from the famous dog track.

There were many such factories in the UK during the boom years so what's the story in E17?

In the 50s Philips were early adopters of the "new" microgroove LP format that finally signalled the death of the 78; many technical processes later adopted by the industry as a whole were developed here; in the 60s Philips invented and launched the pre-recorded cassette and the first tapes commercially available in the UK were made at the factory; during its history the factory pressed releases by major artists - many of them visiting the plant on goodwill promotional visits.

From the perspective of the community - the factory was a major employer in the area; in the 70s it was progressive in its employment practices - changing shift patterns to accomodate the need for muslim workers to attend local mosques for Ramadam; recognising that flexible hours would enable staff to work around school hours and other family commitments; working for the greater good with Band Aid.

During it's existence the Philips record business went through major changes, acquiring the pressing rights for US labels Columbia, Atlantic, and Stax; The acquisition of Mercury in 1961; the joint venture with Siemens forming PolyGram the following year; the takeover of Decca in 1980 and the abortive merger with Warners in 1984. The demise of the factory reflected the changing face of the business - with regionalisation then globalisation of products, the fall of vinyl to CD and the hardening of a market for music that was once unchallenged in meeting the needs of the young audience.

These images are of products from the period when I worked at Phonodisc (previously Philips and later PolyGram).  For more go to Made In Walthamstow Images

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